There are a lot of potholes out there. Particularly when it comes to spoiling your content marketing with some accidental, or even intentional, promotion.
It’s like making a beautiful meal, then adding just a touch of bleach. Doesn’t matter how little, the whole thing is ruined.
So let’s get this out of the way from the start: the content you produce – the thought leadership content – is not there to be a sales tactic on its own. It is part of an overall strategy that will boost sales, but through a process of building trust, establishing you and your company in your particular space, and nurturing leads in a way that can only be done through genuinely helpful, high-quality content.
It’s basically the opposite of ‘20% off this week!’ Because while promotion of course does play an important role, with your customers and prospects becoming increasingly weary of being shouted at by every company in their inbox, it’s through the more subtle art of content marketing that you really win them over, and keep them for the long-term.
So let’s look at how to avoid accidentally falling into a promotional hole.
Why are we starting with the don’ts? Because you’re busy and this is a quick fix to check you haven’t started directly promoting through your thought leadership content. (By the way, if you do that – game over. You have broken that trust you have built up.)
- Mention your products or services: Don’t do it. Yes, it’s so tempting. But for thought leadership this is a big no-no. No one wants to be reading an interesting piece then suddenly feel like they’re being sold to. Your readers are smart, they can sniff out promo miles away. And when you do this, it makes your other content suddenly feel untrustworthy, and importantly, that your company doesn’t really care what the reader feels or needs. Don’t forget, you will have a by-line at the bottom, so you’re not in any danger of a reader being unable to contact your company, or see your offering, if they so choose.
- Waffle on for pages and pages: Keep your long-form content capped at 1,200 words as an absolute max, with lots of white space and breaks in the text so it doesn’t feel overwhelming to read – especially on phones and tablets. Make the take-aways clear for the skimming reader, and keep the pace moving so they don’t get bored. Yes, this is thought leadership – but it’s not a white paper. Keep it snappy.
- Tell the industry what it’s doing wrong: This is a tricky one. Unless you are a huge player in the industry (think Tim Cook discussing Silicon Valley), this can come over as whining. And by telling the industry or the government what they’re doing wrong and how it’s affecting your business, you’re not helping your customers. Keep it customer focused rather than ‘here’s my opinion on everything’-focused.
Now let’s look at some quick additions you can make to any piece of thought leadership content to ensure it hits the mark.
- Back up your argument: It’s vital you include stats to back up your argument. After all, what we are talking about here is thought leadership, and so you need to be on solid ground. The key is to reference the latest studies and reports without taking the reader into an unreadable PhD thesis. A short quote or fact/figure here and there to re-enforce your POV is all that’s needed. But ensure those sources are reputable and respected.
- Solve problems: Scan through what you have written. Is it clear what’s in it for the reader? Have you given them something useful, something which helps them solve a problem? And is that advice in-line with your (unmentioned) product or service? Or have you simply just got something off your chest?
- Pity your reader: Imagine your reader has a headache. It’s a Tuesday morning and they have a meeting with their boss which they’re not looking forward to. They open LinkedIn, or an email that you sent. Are you adding to their headache, or are you offering them something which will make their job just that little bit easier? What are you doing – in your headline, sub-heads, and in the content itself – that will make them bookmark it to read on the way home?
Are you missing out on sales?
Content that is not directly promotional, that is not sales-focused, does not mean you lose sales. It is written by you (or by an agency that you work with closely), and it appears on your blog, on your socials, and is sent out by email. It all leads back to your website – your point of sale.
Your reader is clever, they can easily connect the theme of what you’re writing to your offering. And if they want to purchase such a product or service, they know enough to come to you. So put the hard sell to one side when it comes to thought leadership – and simply lead.